Trendy Fad or Innovation in Beer? Inside the Curious Case for Hazy IPAs

The craft beer movement in the US has forever changed the definition of beer. The grapefruit and pine flavors of the cascade hop catalyzed a revolution in the late 1970’s that couldn’t be stopped. Brewers revived old styles, improved on current styles, and created entirely new ones at an astonishing speed.

With the creation of any new beer style comes preference. With preference comes debate, because my beer is WAY better than yours… right?

It seems that no matter how hard we try to learn from the past, history often repeats itself. A glance through the evolution of beer styles reveals plenty of examples that parallel present day.

In London during the mid-1850s, the older generation scoffed at the young and upper middle class who came to pubs asking for pints of bitter pale ale. In his book “Amber, Gold and Black” author Martin Cornell gives mention to jokes in an issue of Punch Magazine from 1855, poking fun at the “fast young gents” who drank bitter beer and “lived an embittered existence.” Elders at the time had become accustomed to certain styles. In their eyes, there was no need to improve on their trusty malty milds and toasty porters.

Now more than ever brewers are pushing the envelope of what beer can be by utilizing new techniques and ingredients. While consumers have generally responded positively to this pursuit of innovation, a few years ago a debate began surrounding a particular style.

Photo by Miguel Rivas, The Beer Trekker

The Hazy IPA

While drama still surrounds this controversial style, it’s become apparent that it’s here to stay. Some consumers still find them off-putting, while others stand in line for hours just for the chance to try the latest version from their favorite brewery.

What do we have here?

A new popular style.

A group of people that embrace it, and a group of people that despise it. What we’re seeing, has already been seen.

The quicker we realize that this is a natural part of innovation and changing tastes, the quicker we can all get back to drinking what we like! And yet…the angry debate on social media rages on.

Since 1979 the Brewers Association has provided style guidelines to brewers. These guidelines are incredibly important for preserving the agreed upon attributes of a particular style. They establish these attributes by searching the beer-scape far and wide for the absolute best examples of the style in question. Without these guidelines, true attributes of a beer style can disappear forever.

On Tuesday, March 20 the Brewers Association released their 2018 style guide changes, including three new Hazy beer styles. The guidelines include Hazy or Juicy Pale Ale, Hazy or Juicy IPA, and Hazy or Juicy Double IPA. The guidelines themselves are relatively vague, allowing for many different interpretations. This is a sign that the style is still young and evolving. I suspect as time goes on, we’ll see these guidelines tighten as brewers continue to define them.

What these style updates mean

The Brewers Association has recognized the growing popularity of lower-medium-bitterness, heavily dry hopped, juicy, hazy, #thicc IPAs (okay, maybe not the last one..) What’s important to note is that the Brewers Association doesn’t make changes to these guidelines for fun. These changes are carefully researched and vetted before becoming canon. The ultimate driving force? Consumers!

Photo by Miguel Rivas, The Beer Trekker

What went into the Brewers Association’s addition of Hazy IPAs as a beer style?

We spoke Chris Swersey, Competition Manager of the Brewers Association’s Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup to find out exactly what factors into the decision to create a new style category. The main takeaway is that any new proposed style requires a great deal of acceptance from both the consumer and from breweries over time.

“The first part ensures that a new category enjoys the attention of brewers and drinkers,” explains Swersey. “The second part ensures that it’s not just a fad. The process can be relatively simple, or as in the case of the juicy/hazy styles just added this year, very complex. In general, Charlie (Papazian) has been the gatekeeper for the decision to add (or not) new styles.”

Photo by Miguel Rivas, The Beer Trekker

The Brewers Association also does its due diligence in talking to the brewers to better understand emerging styles. In the case of last week’s addition of Hazy styles, the BA’s research led to a better understanding of the wide-reaching range of Original Gravity, ABV, appearance, aroma, and perceived bitterness. These findings lead to the decision to create separate subcategories of Hazy Pale Ale, Hazy IPA, and Hazy IIPA, as well as more open-ended descriptions initially.

“As with any new addition to our guidelines, we fully expect these descriptions to move considerably in coming years, especially in 2019 and 2020, as brewer, drinker and judge opinion coalesces around direction for these styles, and improved verbiage that captures that direction,” explains Swersey.

Such open-endedness is also the case with styles like the equally broad Sour categories. But Swersey noted that the BA is always open to feedback and industry input.

Photo from Outer Range Brewing’s Facebook Page

What this means for consumers

Now more than ever you have the ability to vote with your hard-earned cash. The Hazy IPA wouldn’t be a recognized style if it wasn’t for the popularity that has been shown toward it. The great news is, if you don’t like Hazy IPA’s there are tens of thousands of beers being made every year to quench your thirst. Let’s learn from the past and realize that beer (and everything else around us!) will never stop evolving. Drink and share what you like and respect the choices of others.

Photo from Treehouse Brewing’s Facebook Page

What this means for brewers

If you brew a hazy IPA: You finally have a category to enter it in, continue to push the limits!
If you don’t: Hey no worries! Continue to push limits in your own way!
Let’s not forget, we’re not in this for the money. We’re not in this for the fame. We’re in this industry, together, because this is what we’re passionate about. While I’ve had some terrible hazy IPAs, I’ve also had some life-changing ones. The same could be said about any other beer style. Brewing is the ultimate combination of art and science. Let’s not forget that what comes out of that tap is someone’s artistic expression. Let’s all realize that as the market matures, beer styles will continue to evolve.

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